Floating Drydocks: A Noteworthy Innovation That Changed the Course of Two Wars 7

Floating Drydocks had been around for a long time before World War 2. But the scope of naval warfare during World War 2 and the Cold War that would follow would test the Navy’s ability to maintain vessels in faraway locations. This is part on of the story of docks like USS Los Alamos (AFDB 7) which serviced the Polaris and Poseidon Missile submarines of the Cold War.

Looking back on the years since the LA was placed out of commission, its easy to forget that for over thirty years she served on the front lines of a different kind of conflict. But it was a need identified and filled many years before that which made her ability to fill this new role possible. This is the story of the Floating Drydocks of World War II.


Advanced Base Sectional Dock Number 3

“The fleet of floating drydocks built by the Bureau of Yards and Docks during World War II was a significant and at times dramatic factor in the Navy’s success in waging global war.

It had long been recognized that in the event of another world war the fleet would be required to operate in remote waters, and that ships were going to suffer hard usage and serious battle damage. It was obvious that many crippled ships would be lost, or at least would be out of action for months while returning to home ports for repairs, unless mobile floating drydocks could be provided that could trail the fleet wherever it went. It was the Bureau’s responsibility to meet these requirements.

Floating drydocks have been used for overhaul and repair of ships for many years, and many ingenious designs have been devised from time to time. One of the most interesting was the Adamson dock, patented in 1816, which may be considered the prototype of some of the new mobile docks. The Navy apparently built several wooden sectional docks at various navy yards about 1850, but little is known of their history.

About 1900, two new steel floating drydocks were built for the Navy. The first of these, of 18,000 tons lifting capacity, was built in 1899-1902 at Sparrow’s Point, Md., and towed to the Naval Station a Algiers, La., where it was kept in intermittent service for many years. In 1940, it was towed via the Panama Canal to Pearl Harbor to supplement the inadequate docking facilities there. Since the dock was wider than the Canal locks, it was necessary to disassemble it at Cristobal and to reassemble it at Balboa. Although both the dock and the ship in it were damaged during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the dock was not lost, but was quickly repaired and subsequently performed invaluable service both in the salvaging of vessels damaged in that attack and in the support of the fleet in the Pacific.

The other dock, the Dewey, was a 16,000-ton dock, built in three sections, and capable of docking itself. It was constructed in 1903-1905, also at Sparrow’s Point, Md., and was towed via the Suez Canal to the Philippines. The saga of this voyage is an epic of ocean towing history. The Dewey was still in service at Olongapo when the Japanese invaded the Philippines early in 1942. [sic: Preliminary landings took place as early as 8 December, with the main landings following on the 21st. Manila was occupied on New Years Day. — HyperWar] It was scuttled by the American naval forces before they abandoned the station.

Neither of these docks was suitable for mobile operation. Between 1920 and 1930, the Bureau of Yards and Docks made numerous studies of various types of mobile docks of both unit and sectional types. In 1933, funds were finally obtained for one 2,200-ton dock, and the Bureau designed and built the ARD-1. This dock was of revolutionary design. It was a one-piece dock, ship-shaped in form, with a molded closed bow and a faired stern, and may be best described as U-shaped in both plan and cross-section. The stern was closed by a bottom-hinged flap gate, operated by hydraulic rams. This gate was lowered to permit entrance of a ship into the submerged dock and then closed. The dock was then raised by pumping water from the ballast compartments and also from the main basin. This dock was equipped with its own diesel-electric power plant, pumping plant, repair shops, and crew’s accommodations. It was the first drydock in any navy which was sufficiently self-sustaining to accompany a fleet into remote waters.

The ARD-1 was towed to Pearl Harbor, where it was used successfully throughout the war. Thirty docks of this type, somewhat larger and incorporating many improvements adopted as a result of operational experience with this experimental dock, were constructed and deployed throughout the world during the war.

Advance Base Sectional Dock in the South Pacific
View shows keel blocks and bilge blocks set to accommodate a ship.


In 1935, the Bureau obtained $10,000,000 for a similar one-piece mobile dock, to be capable of lifting any naval vessel afloat. Complete plans and specifications were prepared by the Bureau for this dock, which was to be 1,027 feet long, 165 feet beam, and 75 feet molded depth. Bids received for this huge drydock, designed as the ARD-3, appreciably exceeded the appropriation, and the project was abandoned when the additional funds needed for its execution were refused.

At the same time, plans were prepared for the ARD-2, an improved and enlarged model of the ARD-1. It was not until November 1940, however, that funds were obtained for its construction, and the project placed under contract. The ARD-2, and an additional dock, the ARD-5, were completed in the spring of 1942. Additional docks of this type were built in rapid succession and were delivered during 1943 and 1944 at an average rate of more than one a month.

Types of Floating Drydocks

The war program of floating drydocks included a wide variety of types to meet the varying service requirements for which they were designed. The principal categories were as follows:

  • ABSD — Advance Base Sectional Dock. Mobile, military, steel dock, either (a) of ten sections of 10,000 tons lifting capacity each, or (b) of seven sections of 8,000 tons lifting capacity, for battleships, carriers, cruisers, and large auxiliaries.
  • ARD — Auxiliary Repair Dock. Mobile, military, steel unit dock, ship-form hull, with a normal lifting capacity of 3,500 tons, for destroyers, submarines, and small auxiliaries.
  • ARDC — Auxiliary Repair Dock, Concrete. Mobile, military concrete trough type, unit dock with faired bow and stern, 2,800 tons lifting capacity.
  • AFD — Auxiliary Floating Dock. Mobile, military, steel trough type, unit dock, with faired bow and stern, of 1,000 tons lifting capacity.
  • AFDL — Auxiliary Floating Dock, Lengthened. Mobile, steel trough type, unit dock, similar to AFD’s, but lengthened and enlarged to provide 1,900 tons lifting capacity.
  • YFD — Yard Floating Dock. This category included a wide variety of types, designed generally for yard or harbor use, with services supplied from shore. Among the principal types were 400-ton concrete trough docks; 1,000-ton, 3,000-ton and 5,000-ton one-piece timber trough docks; sectional timber docks ranging from 7,000 to 20,000 tons lifting capacity; and three-piece self-docking steel sectional docks of 14,000 to 18,000 tons lifting capacity.

These classifications were modified in 1946 in order to make the standard nomenclature of floating drydocks consistent and more descriptive. Four class designations were established, as follows:

  • AFDB — Auxiliary Floating Drydock Big.30,000 tons and larger.
  • AFDM — Auxiliary Floating Drydock Medium.10,000 to 30,000 tons.
  • AFDL — Auxiliary Floating Drydock Little. Less than 10,000 tons.
  • AFDL(C) — Auxiliary Floating Drydock Little (Concrete).

Under this modification, the ABSD’s were redesignated AFDB’s; the ARD’s became AFDU’s; the RDC’s became AFDL(C)’s; the AFD’s became AFDL’s; and the YFD’s became AFDM’s.

Advance Base Sectional Dock

The problem of providing floating drydocks capable of moving to advanced operational areas in the wake of the fleet, of sustaining themselves in full operation without support from shore, and of sufficient size and lifting capacity to dock all capital ships had been under study by the Bureau for many years. The ARD-3 was one solution of this problem. It was recognized that a unit dock of this size possessed certain disadvantages. In required a special basin of huge size for its initial construction. It was necessary to retain this basin in reserve or provide an equivalent basin elsewhere, for the periodic docking of the hull, since it was not self-docking. The towing of a craft of this size presented an operational problem of unprecedented magnitude. Provision for stresses during storms at sea required heavy reinforcement of the dock. Concern was felt over the possibility of losing the unit dock from enemy action while en route.

Cruiser in an Advance Base Sectional Dock
Showing the ship secured in position so that it will be supported on the prepared blocking as the dock is unwatered.


Studies had been carried on concurrently by the Bureau on various types of sectional docks, which would be designed with faired hulls for ease of towing and with joint details which would permit rapid assembly in forward areas under adverse conditions. These schemes were not carried to a final conclusion, primarily because the requirements of the Bureau of Ships for the longitudinal strength and stiffness of the assembled dock could not be met by an practicable form of joint.

When war was declared, it was apparent at once that a number of mobile capital-ship floating drydocks would have to be constructed immediately. The project was authorized and funds made available early in 1942. Studies in connection with the preparation of plans and specifications led to the proposal of a sectional type of dock, with field-welded joints, designed for a strength materially below that previously specified by the Bureau of Ships. This reduction was accepted, and the sectional type adopted.

Unwatering an Advance Base Sectional Dock
Water is pumped out of the bottom pontoons and wingwall compartments to raise the ship out of the water.

These docks were of two different sizes. For battleships, carriers, and the largest auxiliaries, the larger docks, consisted of ten section, each 256 feet long and 80 feet wide, and with a nominal lifting capacity of 10,000 tons. When assembled to form the dock, these sections were placed transversely with 50-foot outrigger platforms at either end of the assembly, making the dock 927 feet long and 256 feet wide overall, with an effective length of 827 feet, a clear width inside wing walls of 133 feet, and a lifting capacity of 90,000 tons.

The smaller docks, intended for all except the largest battleships, carriers, and auxiliaries, consisted of seven sections, each 240 feet long and 101 feet wide, with a lifting capacity of 8,000 tons. The assembled dock had an effective length of 725 feet, an overall length of 825 feet, a width of 240 feet, a clear width inside wing walls of 120 feet, and a lifting capacity of 55,000 tons.

At maximum submergence the 10-section docks had a depth over the blocks of 46 feet, with a freeboard of almost 6 feet; the 7-section docks had a corresponding depth of 40 feet and and a freeboard of almost 5 feet.

For both sizes, the sections were faired fore and aft to a truncated bow and stern, and could be towed at a speed of 6 to 8 knots without excessive power. In the assembled docks, the flat bows and sterns formed interrupted berths alongside to which barges and vessels could be readily moored.

A Section of an Advance Base Sectional Dock in Tow
Wingwalls are down to reduce wind resistance. Repair equipment is stowed on deck.

The sections consisted of the bottom pontoon and two wing walls, which were hinged at the bottom so that they could be folded inboard for towing, the purpose being to reduce the presentation to the wind and to lower the center of gravity as compared to fixed standing wing walls.

Each bottom pontoon of the battleship dock was 28 feet deep and was subdivided by two watertight bulkheads running lengthwise and four watertight bulkheads athwart the section to form twelve water ballast compartments and a central buoyancy compartment, 36 feet by 80 feet. This buoyancy compartment contained two decks, the upper deck being used for crew’s quarters, and the lower deck, for the machinery compartment. The double bottom was subdivided to form fuel-oil and fresh water tanks. Access to the usable compartments was provided by passageways under the upper pontoon deck which connected to stair trunks in the wing walls.

The wing walls were 20 feet wide and 55 feet high, and were subdivided by a safety deck set 14 feet below the top deck to form dry compartments above and three water ballast compartments below. The dry compartments were completely utilized for shops, storage, and similar facilities. Quarters and galleys were in the dry compartments in the bottom pontoons.

Each section was equipped with two 525-h.p. diesel engines directly connected to 350-k.w. generators, and with pumps evaporators, compressors, and heating and ventilating apparatus. No propulsion machinery was provided.

The smaller docks were similar, except that the bottom pontoons were 231/2 feet deep and the wing walls were 18 feet wide and 49 feet high.

Each dock was equipped with two portal jib cranes having a lifting capacity of 15 tons at a radius of 85 feet, traveling on rails on the top deck of the wing walls. In the case of the smaller dock, the cranes were set back from the inner face of the wing walls to provide clearance for overhanging superstructures of carriers, and the outer rail was supported on steel framing erected on the outboard portion of the pontoon deck.

ABSD Construction

The 58 sections required for these docks were constructed by five contractors at six different sites, including four on the West Coast, one on the Gulf Coast, and one near Pittsburgh on the Ohio River. Generally, they were built in dry excavated basins which were flooded and opened to the harbor for launching. In one case, two basins in tandem were utilized to suit local site conditions, and the sections were locked down from the upper basin, in which they were built, to the lower basin, the water level of which was normally at tide level and was raised temporarily by pumping.



Raising the Wingwalls of an Advance Base Sectional Dock with Hydraulic Jacks
Crews on top of wingwalls change position of the pins in the beams alternatively.

At one yard, the sections were built on inclined shipways and end-launched; at another, they were side-launched. These sections were built in from 8 to 14 months. Maximum possible use was made of prefabrication and pre-assembly methods.

ABSD Assembly. — Although the wing walls were generally erected initially in their upright position for ease of construction, it was necessary to lower them to the horizontal position for towing at sea. On arrival at the advance base where they were to be placed in service, the wing walls were first raised again to their normal position and the sections then aligned and connected.

An ingenious method was evolved for the raising of the wing walls, which was found to be quicker and more certain than the scheme originally contemplated of accomplishing the result by the buoyancy process. Each wing wall was jacked into position, using two jacking assemblies, each consisting of a long telescoping box strut and a 500-ton hydraulic jack. Closely spaced matching holes were provided in the outer and inner boxes of the strut through which pins were inserted to permit holding the load while the jacks were run back after reaching the limit of their travel. These devices were also designed to hold back the weight of the wing walls after they passed the balance point during the raising operation. Two 100-ton jacks opposing the main jacks were used for this purpose. After the wing walls were in the vertical position, they were bolted to the bottom pontoon around their entire perimeter, and all access connection between the wing wall and bottom pontoon were made watertight.

The sections of each dock were successively brought together and aligned by means of the matching pintles and gudgeons which had been provided for the purpose on the meeting faces of the sections. Heavy splice plates were then welded in position from section to section across the joints at the wing walls, at top and bottom, and on both the inside and the outside faces of the wing walls. The strength of these connections gave the assembled dock a resisting moment of about 500,000 foot-tons, or approximately one-fourth that of the largest prospective vessel to be docked.

The drydock cranes were carried on the pontoon deck of individual sections during tow, and were shifted to their operating position on the wing walls during assembly of the dock by immerging the partially assembled dock, bringing the section carrying the crane alongside, and aligning it so the rails on the pontoon deck were in line with those on the wing walls of the rest of the dock. The trim and alignment were adjusted during the transfer by a delicate control of water ballast.

The assembled docks were moored at anchorages in protected harbors where wave conditions, depth of water, and bottom holding power were satisfactory. The large docks required at least 80 feet depth for effective use. They were moored by 32 fifteen-ton anchors, 14 on both side and 2 at either end, with 150 fathoms scope of chain.

In actual operation, it was found that the effectiveness of these docks could be improved by providing auxiliary facilities in excess of those available on the dock itself. A considerable number of shop, storage, and personnel accommodation barges were provided for this purpose.

Special Problems

Special conditions of service involved many entirely new studies and developments for our floating drydocks. For instance, as the docks had to operate in outlying areas where ideal conditions for operation could not always be met, it was necessary to give the adequacy of their moorings special consideration. In the largest size docks, this involved wind-tunnel experiments which gave some surprising results and indicated that a rearrangement of the moorings as originally planned was desirable. Also, as the drydock operating crews were initially relatively inexperienced and docking of ships under advance base conditions had never been attempted to the extent contemplated, it was necessary to prepare complete operating manuals for the use and guidance of the crews. Damage control was also important, and damage-control manuals were prepared for all advance base docks, covering every possible contingency of weather an enemy action.

As advance base docks were commissioned and had regular Navy crews and as they operated in areas where they had to be self-sustaining to a large extent, it was necessary to develop allowance lists for each type of dock and outfit them in much the same manner as a ship. This necessitated the incorporation into the docks of special facilities for the handling, stowage, and issuance of great quantities of material and equipment.

Complete statistics have not been compiled of the total number of vessels of all kinds from the mightiest battleship and carriers to the humblest patrol craft that were salvaged, repaired, and overhauled in this armada of floating drydocks. Themost dramatic demonstration of the importance of the mobile drydocks was given during the long drawn-out naval support of the invasion of Okinawa, when the fleet was subjected for weeks to continual and desperate “Kamikaze” attacks by Japanese suicide-bombers. The fleet suffered great damage, but the ready availability of the mobile drydocks at nearby advance bases, and the yeoman service rendered by their own crews and the ship repair components at these bases, save many ships and minimized the time ships were out of action for repairs, to such an extent that these docks may well have represented the margin between success and failure.”

AFDB-1 with West Virginia (BB-48) high and dry in the dock

The AFDB’s served on for many years. You can read about some of their stories in the archives of theleansubmariner.com

Mister Mac

The Build – Reflections from an Old Docking Officer 3

The Build

When you have sailed on submarines for most of your career, stepping outside of your comfort zone reveals many things about who you are. Most submariners have achieved a level of excellence that is demanded by the profession. You are operating a large ship that is designed to sink and do most of its work undetected. That requires each person to be multi-talented in addition to being subject matter experts. You may be cooking one minute and helping to put on a band-it patch the next. Your watch could be as routine as pumping water from one tank to another then suddenly shifting into a battle stations mode where multiple responses must be made in a split second with no time to analyze.

In other words, you can get a little self-confident. If you get really cocky, you may just decide to take another path and become a Chief Warrant Officer. This program is designed for Chief Petty Officers who have no college degree but have a high degree of technical knowledge and advanced leadership skills. It has traditionally been highly selective and the billets are very limited. The year I was selected (FY 1989) there were only thirteen of us selected in my skill set out of a few thousand applicants.

I knew life was going to be different since instead of having a small division of men to care for, I would now have larger groups of men and women on board a ship that was not a submarine. I had no idea how different until I crossed the bow of the USS Los Alamos (AFDB 7) a large four section drydock in Holy Loch Scotland. When you first see her up close, you are struck by the size of the thing and the new challenge you are about to face.

Every ship and submarine is designed to sail the ocean with certain physical characteristics. But every ship and submarine also share one thing: they all need to come out of the water from time to time. When a ship is in the water, its hull is supported by the water that cradles it. Taking the water away means that all the weight will be shifted to another place and if it isn’t done properly, you could damage the ship itself or one of the many underwater components not visible when the ship is floating.

Someone has to create the build.

The Los Alamos was resurrected from a graveyard in Florida in the early 1960’s. She had been placed in storage at the end of World War 2 in the late 1940’s. When the new Polaris submarine program was introduced, the need for a portable servicing facility was determined. In this case, a small body of water on the west coast of Scotland was deemed suitable. For that reason, the Site One base in Holy Loch was created. Four sections of the dock were towed to the Loch and assembled by Seabees. That dock commenced operation within a short period of time and did hundreds of routine and emergency dockings over the next thirty years.

When a ship or submarine is designed, it comes with plans for building and plans for docking as the need arises. The submarines that Los Alamos had been designed to support were built at the same time and after she was reactivated. SO needless to say, they plans we had for each boat were really worn and aged by the time I reported on board. The Navy had sent me to Connecticut to train on a dock that was a lot more modern and not a sectional dock. But the principles remained the same. You had to understand weights and measures, metacentric heights, and the importance of the build.

Each build is slightly different, even on the same class of boats. Some had different equipment, some had seawater openings in different places and all had to be examined carefully in order not to damage the boat when you land it. Most importantly, all of the calculations for block heights had to be precise. Then you had to have a plan on how to land the boats exactly where you built the blocks. The time needed to create a build plan was at least a week. You take the old plan and verify that no changes have occurred. Then you painstakingly set up the height measures for each of the wooden blocks that will be built. The carpenter shop then cuts each block to your specification and prepares them to mount on the base blocks. You also need to calculate the measurements for the side blocks that will be shifted in place to prevent the boat from accidently rolling over.

There is little room for error.

These wooden blocks are designed to crush with the weight but they have a designed factor that allows for uniform crush. Once the calculations are complete, the build begins. Men and women from the docking department work day and night alongside the deck division to place the blocks and caps in their proper place. The last step is when the Docking Officer personally measures each part of the build and certifies it.

All of this work occurs in a variety of weather. All year long. In Scotland, that can mean anything from freezing rain to blinding snow storms. The schedule rarely was interrupted by weather. Many times the boat needed more than a routine repair so we just did what we did.

Apparently someone thought he was Captain Morgan

The day comes when all is ready and the floating drydock submerges in place. You do that by flooding the dock down until it is low enough to accept the submarine or ship that is waiting to cross her brow on the open end. The Captain and Docking Officer are on the Flying Bridge opposite of the open end and everyone on the dock is in place ready to receive the ship. When the nose of the submarine enters the dock area, the Docking Officer becomes legally responsible for the safety of the unit. It means bringing her in safe and not scraping the walls, setting her down correctly with having it fall over, and ensuring that this multi-million dollar warship will be safely landed and able to be restored to fighting condition in a few weeks.

No pressure at all.

March 15, 1991 was my qualification docking. It was an incredible feeling to finally land the boat and the tugboat that we landed at the same time (two units at once was pretty common for the Los Alamos).

It was the longest day of my life and certainly one filled with exciting things no one had planned. The docking took a little longer and while we were bringing the boats in a sudden squall appeared. That wind tried to knock our two charges all over the dock before we could land them. But the crew of the dock did a marvelous job.

A party had been planned by the wives for the event over at our house on shore. Since the docking was delayed about eight hours, the party started without us, But when we finally finished, the crew assembled at my house and we commenced a celebration for the ages. It did not end until the next morning. Most of us had to go back to work and believe me there were a few hurting sailors and officers that day. But it was a successful landing and that meant the world to me.

Sadly the announcement that the dock was to be closed down after 31 years came not too long after that. I was able to do five dockings before the end but the lessons have stuck with me ever since:

  1. To have a good build, you have to have a good crew. I was honored to have some of the best people I have ever worked with on that dock.
  2. The most expensive ship in the Navy still relies on a solid foundation. The build must be carefully created and designed for the worst possible scenario,
  3. Stepping outside of your comfort zone is the only way to find out who you really are. Being a long time submariner gave me confidence in one area but may have actually been keeping me from reaching my potential

The engineers that originally designed the sectional floating drydocks would have had no way to foresee the impact of their design on future operations. The first atomic power plant was not even commissioned until 1948. But the core principles of safely docking a vessel stand the test of time. I salute all of the unsung heroes of the Cold War that operated in the worst conditions of all but helped protect America from those who wanted to destroy her.

Mister Mac


AFDB-7 Los Alamos Holy Loch Scotland “IN THE BEGINNING…” 23

For the second time in the history of theleansubmariner, I am posting an article from a Shipmate that I have come to know via our common interests in history and events that shaped it. This article comes from Norman Rachels SWE4 (formerly of the United States Navy). Norm was one of the guys who arrived early enough to see Site One come together in a very meaningful way… this is his story.

Thanks for all your hard work both then and in putting this together Shipmate!

Mister Mac



Mr. Mac posted a blog on August 1st, 2011 titled “Bagpipes and Boomers and Beer, oh my!”[1]   The sub heading was, “Holy Loch, Scotland”…….and THAT CAUGHT MY ATTENTION. In fact, that was how I stumbled across his blog back on August 3rd, 2013. You see, my 50th wedding anniversary was coming up on the 21st and I was still looking for something unusual for my wife and had been Goggling Scotland for quite some time looking for the perfect gift.

Why, you might ask? Because she is from Glasgow, Scotland and we were married there on August 21st, 1963. I met her on my first day ashore in Dunoon, Scotland, arriving on May 27, 1961 aboard the USS DE SOTO COUNTY. I was a Seabee in MCB-4 (Mobile Construction Battalion Four) and the main body was heading for Rota, Spain.

Fortunately for me, I had been assigned to DETACHMENT KILO and was disembarking with the main body of Kilo to spend my stay in Scotland, in the Holy Loch, on a floating barracks ship, APL-42, which we affectionately called, “The Apple”. The purpose of Detachment Kilo was to erect a floating dry dock capable of docking Polaris submarines.

The dock had been in storage in Green Cove Springs, Florida since WWII and Detachment Kilo was formed in the spring of 1960 to assist in the reactivation of AFDB-7. With the completion of reactivation on the dry dock sections, preparations were begun for the long tow across the Atlantic. This involved the inventory and stowage of all equipment and procuring provisions for the 30-day voyage. The tows left Green Cove Springs, Florida the end of April. Not only were the four sections of the dry dock separately towed but also the barracks ship (APL-42) and a floating warehouse (YFNB-32). Also towed behind the A and B sections of the dock were two barges. It was the largest tow since World War II.[2]

Dock 1  Dock 2

Work commenced on the dry dock sections under the direction of LCDR W. E. Nims, officer-in-charge of Det. KILO, on June 2, 1961. By the 23rd the first wing walls had been raised and by August 10th dock sections A and B had been welded together. Difficulties plagued KILO’s work, the largest being the inclement weather which resulted in faulty welds which had to be cut out and re-welded. Shelters were built around the crews to protect them and the welds where work continued night and day…….and so did the troublesome weather. The core of KILO’s work on the floating dry dock enveloped the steelworkers. Intricate welds, hampering weather and long hours produced a strain evident in the steelworker crews by deployment’s end. Forming the backbone of the steelworker crews were 11 men who had graduated in April 1961 from the Davisville, (RI) (Home of the Seabees) [3] Class “C” Welding and Certification School. All phases of horizontal, vertical, overhead and pipe welding were covered to give the men technical experience for the task they faced. Honor man of the class, J. M. Frizzel lauded the school for the interest shown each individual. Passing on the knowledge and interest acquired in school, the graduates helped promote more efficient steelworker crews in KILO. Addressing the graduating class, LCDR Nims stated that the steelworkers would have the most critical phase of the dry dock assembly.[4]

Dock 3

On top of Section A looking at B going up. I took this picture using a Polaroid camera in 1961. All my black and white pictures are from the same camera

On August 15th sections A and B were ready for the first test dive. However, as the dock descended a fault was discovered in the levelometer system and the submergence test had to be postponed. To repair this deficiency it was necessary to call upon the ONLY LIVING EXPERT ON THIS SYSTEM, age 72, Mr. “T”, as he was known. By September 16th A and B sections were prepared for another try at submergence and were successful.

The next task was to transfer a gantry crane from the back of one of the remaining C and D sections TO THE TOP OF THE WALL on A and B  This was accomplished on September 18th.[5]


How… you ask? By sinking sections A and B, building bridge rails across to the back of the section holding the crane then pulling it across with block and tackle.

Normally, this would mean the completion of the hardest task of erection and the beginning of a downhill jog. But events became more hectic for KILO. The weather worsened. The Ingersoll Rand main generator engine broke down and it became obvious that a longer working week was necessary to meet the operational date of November 1st, 1961. The work schedule was pushed to six days a week, 12 hours a day. By October 4th section C was joined to A and B sections and on October 22nd the last section, D, was incorporated. The work schedule was increased to seven days a week, 12 or more hours a day.[6] (funny, I don’t remember getting OT).

Dock 4   Dock 5

Note the crane on the back left of a section and the wing walls are lying down and on hinges with the tops facing each other. The crane(s) had to go from this position to the top of erected wing walls. The left picture was taken in Green Cove Springs, FL before the tow. I took the picture on the right from the top of section A showing a crane on the back of C section, the wing walls still down, which could not be raised because of the position of the crane. The cranes cable drum is almost as large as a pick-up truck. A Mike boat is approaching on the unusually calm waters of Holy Loch.

Below gantry structures are going up for the outer rail for the cranes to run on. The other rail was atop the outer edge of the wing walls.

Dock 6       Dock 7

In the second picture below you can see one of the 30,000 pound anchors used to hold the dock in place. Twenty-four were used with 3 inch chain links which weighed 86 lbs. each. We had 3 miles of chain and dropped 24 anchors in 90 feet of water, only having to re-drop one.

  Dock 81

Dock 9

The first crane is being transferred to the top of wing walls A and B. Note the gantry structure at water level in the picture on the right and the crane at the back of section C. This was the FIRST TIME THE AFDB-7 HAD BEEN UNDER WATER SINCE WWII. These color pictures were taken with my Bell & Howell 8 MM movie camera and I had the 2 & ¾ inch reels of film converted to a DVD & received several still pictures like these also. All my color pictures are from the 8 MM films.

Cranes were pulled across with ropes, blocks & tackles.

Dock 10 Dock 11

Dock 12 Dock 13

I took these pictures from the upper deck of the APL-42 showing section C wing walls going up after the crane had been placed on top of sections A and B. Note the workers on the jacks in the picture on the right, changing the pin positions. The left picture below shows a close up of the jacks with the holes for a large pin to be inserted as each side is raised about a foot. The pin holds up one side while the jack on the other side of the same wall is lowered, a pin removed, and then jacked up two notches, and re-inserted. The process is then repeated for the opposite wall. It took almost 16 hours to raise the walls for each of the four sections. Naturally the ballast must be controlled for the shifting weight. That’s why the 72 year old “Mr. T.” came in and repaired the system.

Dock 14 Dock 15

The above picture on the right is from the top of section C looking at our “home away from home”, the APL-42, or as we called it, “the Apple” (a floating barracks ship).

Dock 16

This is a different view of the Apple showing it had been moved to a different position in relation to the dock, and also one of the outer crane rails on the gantry structure is visible on the right.


I took these pictures with my Polaroid Land camera from the top of section A showing Seabees installing the deck between the rails of the cranes.

Dock 17 Dock 18


Dock 19

This award winning night photo shows flawed welds being cut out and would be welded again. After completion the welds would again be x-rayed for flaws.

Dock 20 Dock 21

The top picture shows a crane atop completed sections while the bottom right area shows another wall going up. The lower picture is the nearly finished AFDB-7. Note the small crane on the barrage in front.


Finished AFDB-7, is sitting high, waiting for a sub.       U.S.S. Patrick Henry is the first sub into the dock.

Dock 22 Dock 23

“….Yours is a significant contribution to fleet readiness of which you can be justly proud…Three points exemplify your outstanding performance. First, the high degree of competence in the fine art of seamanship is most gratifying. Second, your adherence to schedule shows dogged determination and much resourcefulness and imitative. Finally, your safety record be-speaks the skill of every man. Each of these is the more important for the adverse weather conditions which you combated. “The difficulty involved and the result realized are the measure of your accomplishment…..Well Done.

     ADM H.P. Smith, Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Navy Forces, Europe      

Fighting all the obstacles, KILO missed the proposed completion date only a week. By November 6th the final submergence test had been accomplished.

As the 300 men of KILO who were in Scotland can testify, a description of the Holy Loch deployment made in April 1961 by CAPT. J.C. Tate, Commander Construction Battalions U.S. Atlantic Fleet held true at the deployment’s close in November: “one of the most interesting job of any of the Seabee battalions.”

On 10 November 1961, six months work on deployment, plus many more months of preparation for the deployment, closed in a ceremony in which Det. KILO OIC, LCDR W.E. Nims, transferred the dry dock to CAPT Walter Schlech, COMSUBRON 14, who in turn placed it in the custody of the AFDB-7 OIC, LT R.O. Melcher. The watch was set, and thus to Holy Loch a new addition for the service of Polaris submarines.

Three days later, the detachment, with the exception of a 60-man rear echelon boarded the USNS GORDON, sailed from the Holy Loch and headed for home.

Holy Loch is nestled in the Scottish Highlands a setting of verdant, rolling hills, picturesque Lochs, parks, kilts and tamoshanters. A land where the whiskey is strong and the people are friendly. Regardless of brooding Scottish skies, liberty became one of the memorable aspects of the deployment at Holy Loch. A short ride in a “Mike” boat from the APL-42 to Ardnadam pier and one was ashore. Only a few minutes ride by bus and personnel could be in the Scottish holiday resort of Dunoon, Scotland, home of the Cowal Highland Games. Many enjoyable evenings were spent by KILO men at Dunoon dancing at the pavilion or ‘quaffing” Lager at one of Dunoon’s inviting pubs.[12] (It’s like drinking, but you spill more. With 3 pints to go and only 2 minutes before they would be thrown out of the pub (bar),quaffing was a given.)

Dock 24     Dock 25


The Ardnadam pier was used for embarking and debarking to the Apple and AFDB-7 as well as the submarine tenders.

Returning from liberty in Glasgow via steam trains, we would then take the ferry from Gourock to Dunoon except when we missed the last one. Then we had to take a Mike boat from the Admiralty pier at Caldwell Bay in Gourock, pictured on the right and showing the Holy Loch in the background. I remember we would always be hungry and usually purchased two “fish & chips”, one to eat right-a-way, and the other on the trip to the Apple about 7 or 8 miles away.

Dock 26    Dock 27

About the author:             Norman Rachels SWE4

Below I am standing on the “Apple” with the first two sections, A & B being joined together in the back ground. I remember as my buddy and I went ashore the first time, at least 8, 9, 10 or more people stopped us on the street and invited us to dinner that night; several even asked us to spend the night. Coming from near a large military base, Ft. Bragg, NC, I could never imagine a soldier there getting the same reception. Since we did not take up any of the “offers”, I can now say that I am glad we didn’t. Later that evening, I met my wife of 50+ years at the Crown Court Café & Bar on Argyll Street, Dunoon.

Dock 28   Dock 29

Steelworker Erector E-3 in 1961                                      Crown Court Café & Bar, Dunoon


This AFDB 7 plaque, along with the picture of the docked sub, & the Crewmember certificate was given to me by LCDR R.A. Nance of the AFDB-7 when I visited in September, 1989.

Dock 30  Dock 31 Dock 32

Dock 33

MCB-4 Plaque

Dock 34

MCB-4 Battalion Patch

Dock 35

MCB-4 Cruise Book 1961

Dock 36  Dock 37

August 21st 1963 Glasgow, Scotland                                 August 21st, 2013 Scottsdale, AZ



[2] This paragraph and the two pictures are from MCB-4 Cruise Book of 1961

[3] Davisville Naval Base no longer exists.

[4] This paragraph is from MCB-4 Cruise Book of 1961.

[5] The above two paragraphs are from MCB-4 Cruise Book of 1961

[6] This paragraph is from MCB-4 Cruise Book of 1961

[7] This photo is from MCB-4 Cruise Book of 1961

[8] These two pictures were taken with my Bell & Howell 8 MM movie camera and film converted to a DVD

[9] Picture on left was taken with Bell & Howell 8 mm camera, picture on right with Polaroid Land Camera.

[10] Picture is from the MCB-4 Cruise Book.

[11] I am not sure where I got this picture. The USS Patrick Henry in the AFDB-7 is from the MCB-4 Cruise Book.

[12] These 6 paragraphs are from the MCB-4 Cruise Book of 1961.

[13] The above pier picture is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.   Attribution: John Fergusonhttp://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ardnadam_Pier_Holy_Loch_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1750930.jpg No changes made .

[14] Ardnadam Pier Hotel picture is from the MCB-4 Cruise Book of 1961.

[15] Admiralty pier, Caldwell Bay in Gourock. (taken in 1956 – no copyright)

[16] I do not know where I obtained this picture.

[17] LCDR Nance, Commanding Officer, AFDB-7 personalized a note in the upper left corner.













Happy Hogmanay 5

The Scots invented many things over the years that have proven quite useful to mankind. The list of inventions and innovations is enough to make your head spin, so suffice it to say that they were (and are) a very clever people. See more here:


Watt Steam Can you hear me now US NavyGlobal Warming started here Important stuff

One of my favorite inventions though is the Celebration of Hogmanay. There are many legends of how the celebration came about. Hogmanay’s beginnings may harken back to the celebration of the winter solstice among the Norse, probably incorporating customs from the Gaelic celebration of Samhain. The Vikings (or what we call uninvited guests in my side of the house) celebrated Yule, which later contributed to the Twelve Days of Christmas, or the “Daft Days” as they were sometimes called in Scotland. The whole winter festival program went underground with the Protestant Reformation and ensuing years, but came back with a vengeance near the end of the 17th century.

Throughout Scotland it is celebrated in many different ways but one of the most common customs is known as First Footing. This invention is nothing less than pure genius. The first person who steps across your doorstep is supposed to set the stage for your luck for the rest of the year. That person will traditionally bring a gift such as salt (less common today), coal, shortbread, whisky, and black bun (a rich fruit cake) intended to bring different kinds of luck to the householder.


Food and drink (as the gifts) are then presented to the guests. This may go on throughout the wee hours of the morning and well into the next day. I can’t prove this but I have even heard that the celebration now can extend into the middle of the month of January… Brilliant!!!

Traditionally, tall dark men are preferred as the first-foot. (There are some neighborhoods in the US where this may actually not be a good thing but tradition is tradition).

One Hogmanay custom which has spread almost the world over is the singing of the Robert Burns classic “Auld Lang Syne”. It is common for the participants to link arms and sing it at the first stroke of midnight. Most people who have heard it before can be seen to tear up a bit… especially if they got a jump on the first footing custom.

The world could use a little Hogmanay. We could all use a blessing for our lives and homes. Our country is a blending of many wonderful cultures and the ability to bring the best of those cultures into our homes without destroying our American culture is one of our strengths. But tonight, as American as I am, I will be listening to Black Watch recording of Auld Lang Syne.



God Bless you and yours. May this New Year bring the best to your life and thank you for letting me take up a bit of your day.

Mister Mac

Scotland 1990 012

          Scottish Settler 001